Nobody starts a business thinking “I only want to be around for a couple years.” The goal of creating a company is always to see it grow and flourish in the long-term, and it is becoming increasingly clear to many that one of the key elements of a business that has the ability to go the distance is placing a focus on sustainability. As climate change progressively grows to affect not only our own everyday lives but also the lives of every other species on the planet, in order for a business to be able to thrive long-term it must work to ensure there is a planet left to thrive in. In this way, operating a business sustainably is just as much good for the business itself as it is for the environment and society as a whole. The simple fact of the matter is the planet’s warming is more than 95% likely caused by human activity, with human industry being a huge factor due to its cyclical nature of production and consumption, as well as its reliance on land and resources (particularly fossil fuels).
A business is sustainable when it begins to consider more than just profits in its decision-making process. Instead, it focuses on a bigger picture, taking into account the impact its actions and choices will have on the environment and by extension society. Instead of viewing financial gains as the goal, sustainable businesses see profit as a welcome byproduct of creating value, and recent studies have identified that consumers are also showing an increasing focus on supporting companies with a good track record for social responsibility. According to a survey conducted by the public relations and marketing company Cone Communications, 76% of American consumers expect companies to take action against climate change, and 73% of Americans would stop purchasing from a company that doesn’t care about climate change.
Why invest in sustainability?
A business that operates sustainably functions in the best interests of both their local environment and the global one, supporting their community and economy whose livelihoods are dependent on a healthy planet. By working to operate without negatively impacting the environment, you consider more than just profits — you consider its impact on society and the environment. In doing so, you are contributing to the health of the structures within which you operate, acknowledging that the sustainability of the earth and the sustainability of your business are inextricably linked. By earning profits through social responsibility and protecting the use of our planet’s resources, you construct an environment in which your business can truly thrive.
Businesses account for 60% of the emissions pledged to be cut by 2030 by all countries in the Paris Climate Agreement, and in the same Core Communications survey on corporate social responsibility that was mentioned previously they found that over half of Americans desired corporations to drive social and environmental change in the absence of government action. Additionally, up-and-coming leaders from younger generations are also backing such initiatives in growing numbers, with a survey conducted to them by Accenture and the World Economic Forum finding that 61% said that business models should only be pursued if their profitable growth simultaneously occurs with improving societal outcomes.
Finally, while it may seem like a costly investment to make your business seem more sustainable, it has the ability to save your business money in the long run. In the last decade, clients of the managed service provider Elytus saved over $11 million through sustainable waste management and transparency, and Dow Chemical reported that while they had invested less than $2 billion in the past 26 years to improve its resource efficiency, it has saved more than $9.8 billion from reduced energy consumption and water waste in its manufacturing process. Even if your business isn’t operating at the scale of these companies, small changes such as switching to energy efficient lighting or reusing cardboard boxes for shipping can create massive opportunities for savings, and local, state, and the federal government all offer tax credits, rebates, and savings for going green.
Becoming more sustainable in an effective way may not be easy at first, but the challenge is well worth the reward. Successful entrepreneurs, owners, and leaders look at problems as opportunities. Now is your opportunity to embrace sustainability and implement innovative strategies in the process. Some creative business planning can help you determine specific and unique strategies that will work for your business. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Start Recycling at Work
There is currently an island of plastic twice the size of Texas (approximately 1.6 million square kilometers) floating in the Pacific Ocean. Known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” it is made up of harmful microplastics that not only kill marine life but can also end up in the seafood we eat. By recycling and using recycled materials, you help encourage a circular economy in which less waste is created and subsequently littered throughout our planet. In addition to keeping trash out of the landfills and the incinerator, the recycling industry creates over 750,000 jobs annually, so if you don’t already do so — start recycling. Even if you are already recycling in your workplace, take some time to brush up on the recycling policies in your area and educate those on your team on them so everybody is clear on the expectations. Additionally, by providing at least one recycling bin for every trash can available in your office space and ensuring they are properly labeled, you discourage laziness when it comes to putting recyclable items in the trash bin. Finally, if your city is one of a growing number that has a composting program, take advantage of it even if it’s just by having a bin in your shared kitchen space.
Encourage Green Commuting
Commuting is a huge detriment to the environment. Transportation accounts for approximately one-third of all the greenhouse gases produced in the United States, but 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline is still wasted every day by people stuck in traffic on their way to and from work. Additionally, each person loses an average of 38 hours a year idling in traffic, which can be equated to $710 in lost productivity and out-of-pocket gas expenses. Green commuting can significantly cut down on daily emissions, so implementing and encouraging these solutions into your business can have the potential to bring about a positive impact on the environment. Biking, carpooling, and taking the bus are all forms of green commuting that can help your employees contribute to sustainability both in and out of the workplace, and there are inexpensive scooters and electric bikes for those who live too far away to ride a regular bike. Additionally, as electric and hybrid vehicles are increasingly becoming more widely available, if you have a parking lot you could consider providing electric vehicle charging spaces, as well as rewarding eco-conscious drivers by offering VIP parking spaces for hybrid and electric vehicles.
The Age of Remote Working
Better yet, keep drivers and cars off the road completely by implementing remote working options into your business model. The coronavirus pandemic has at least temporarily made this form of working the norm, but even when the world returns to our “new normal” it may be worth considering a permanent adoption. Remote work is technically another type of green commute, and while some positions may not allow for remote work if the work can be done outside of the office, there can be many benefits to allowing your team to take advantage of it. Currently, people who are working from home in the United States right now avoid emitting 3.6 million tons of commuting-related greenhouse gases per year, the equivalent of planting 91 million trees according to Global Workplace Analytics. In fact, for the company Xerox alone its teleworkers saved 4.6 million gallons of gas, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 41,000 metric tons, and saved the company over $10 million.
We live in an increasingly digital world, and yet despite this fact many businesses are still using more paper than necessary. Computers, smartphones, and other devices are integrated into the workplace; use them to their fullest extent and avoid using paper whenever possible. Take the time to assess where your company uses the most paper, and then try to get creative in your solutions. For example, if you find that people are printing out sheets of paper that could easily be viewed on a screen consider investing in dual monitors setups for your team, which not only reduce the need to print documents but also make manual data transfer much simpler than paper. By simply creating a rule that says to always print papers double-sided you can immediately reduce your paper usage by half, and encourage the use of single-spacing and narrower margins for less important documents. By streamlining workflows to reduce paper usage, you not only help the environment, but also save yourself up to 20% in print costs.
Create a Sustainability Committee
To keep ideas flowing and signify your commitment to sustainable practices, consider creating a sustainability committee within your workplace. By selecting a team of volunteers who are responsible for eco-friendly initiatives in the workplace, you not only create accountability but also bolster a culture of sustainability in the workplace. This team will have the ability to follow up with others on ensuring the aforementioned policies are followed, and also continually come up with new ideas to increase the company’s sustainability in the long run. From ensuring the air conditioning and lights are off on the weekends to stocking reusable pens, you will constantly be surprised and delighted by what can be come up with when a dedicated team puts their minds together. Make sure to task them with talking to other employees about challenges and ideas, as well as giving them the power to make decisions.
With each passing year, sustainability becomes more a focus in the lives of people across the world. From metal and paper straws replacing plastic ones to heightened awareness of the plastic waste in our oceans, it is clear that awareness of the way we are affecting the beautiful planet we reside on is rising. However, as important as each individuals’ efforts are, it is only through larger movements that we can see the great change we need. For that reason, it is imperative that sustainability continues to become a larger part of not only our home lives, but also our professional ones.